Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

One Fledged, One To Go

Youngster #1 exercising his wings at 25th floor edge (photo by John English)

UPDATE, 4 June 2019, 9:50am: For a short time we thought both had fledged. But only Red flew — back and forth to Heinz Chapel steeple. Yellow was still on the nest rail as of 1:15pm.

Yesterday at the start of Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, we figured out that a youngster had flown because his parents were perching and flying to unusual places. About 10 minutes later Hope and Terzo flew together — kind of crazy — and John English saw a third bird flying with them. Alas, I missed seeing that third bird.

But I found him on the 25th floor corner in the shade.

First fledgling, 25th floor, 3 June 2019 (photo by John English)

Eventually the sun moved.

He warmed up and flap-walked to the corner of 25 (top photo) and then disappeared, probably down to the patio. His parents flew above and perched nearby to check on him.

Youngster #1 kept going. By 3:40p, Peter Bell saw him on the edge of 16 facing Heinz Chapel. He’d already completed the circle tour of the Cathedral of Learning.

Meanwhile his brother was still on the nest rail when Fledge Watch ended at 1pm. He will probably fly today.

Come on down to Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch today at Schenley Plaza, 11a to 1p. I predict this will be the best day to watch.

CANCELLATION UPDATE: We are canceling tomorrow’s Fledge Watch for Wed 5 June. Thunderstorms are in the forecast and the birds will be flying too well to find them. I chased ‘Red’ around the building twice today. This means that Fledge Watch ended today, Tues 4 June.

p.s. In case you haven’t noticed it’s All Peregrines, All The Time this week.

(photos by John English)

Up Early

The peregrine family at the Cathedral of Learning was up before dawn this morning. By the time the sun rose at 5:50a, Hope and Terzo had already been gone 10 minutes to get food. The youngsters waited and watched for breakfast.

Above, a youngster watches the sky for incoming parents. Below, he climbs higher for a better view.

Then he hops over to the nestbox roof …

… and shows the red tape on his right legband.

We’ll have good weather today for Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza, 11a to 1p.

My hunch is that one of the young peregrines will fledge today. Let’s see if they prove me wrong. 😉

p.s. To see this wider view of the nest on the snapshot camera, click here.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt Fledge Watch News + Forecast on June 2

Young peregrine walks on the nest rail, 1 June 2019, 12:57p (digiscoped by Kate St. John)

Yesterday at Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch we saw Hope and Terzo give flight demonstrations and perch up high. The youngsters ledge walked back and forth from the nest to the nest rail. Half the time they were up above, the other half they were out of sight.

Here are a few photos from Saturday June 1. The captions tell the story.

Hope on the roof edge. The equipment is not near her, it just looks that way (photo by John English)
Two youngsters on the nest rail, 1 June 2019 (photo by John English)

When they’re not on the nest rail they explore near the nest. Can you see both of them in these photos?

Two young peregrines at the nest, 1 June 2019, 12:01p (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Two tails visible at the nestbox roof, 1 June 2019, 12:16p (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Young peregrine gazing down from above (digiscoped by Kate St. John)

At this moment (6am on June 2) it looks like there will be a gap in the storms just in time for Fledge Watch. If so we’ll be there from 11a to 1p. We’ll cancel for rain or thunder.

(photos by Kate St. John and John English)

Help The PA Peregrine Tracking Study

This year the PA Game Commission will track a few young peregrine falcons using nanotags and MOTUS technology.

Nanotags are very small transmitters that communicate with cell towers using MOTUS technology. The nanotags are so small that even a migrating dragonfly can wear one, shown below. Click here to read how the tags work and see one on a piping plover.

Dragonfly with MOTUS nanotag (screenshot from MOTUS website)

How will they attach the tags?

During the typical banding nest visit peregrine falcon chicks are not old enough to attach the transmitters — they need to have real feathers. Instead, PGC Endangered Species Biologist Patti Barber will attach the tags to healthy grounded fledglings that are rescued and about to be released by PGC Game Wardens.

As always, if you find a fledgling on the ground corral it to a safe zone and call the PGC “rescue” number: 724-238-9523. The Game Warden will contact Patti Barber and, if she’s in the area, she’ll come attach the tiny tracking device. The fledgling will be on its way … and we’ll know where it goes!

(photo of young peregrine by Nancy Weixel in 2011, screenshot of dragonfly from MOTUS website)

Young Peregrines Seen: Downtown and Pitt

Peregrine chick at the nest opening, Downtown Pittsburgh, 30 May 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

The peregrine falcon chicks at Pittsburgh’s two city nests were active yesterday, 30 May 2019.

In Downtown Pittsburgh Lori Maggio saw one of the four chicks at the nest opening before 8am. Their presence was variable, though. When Mary de Vaughn stopped by in the evening there was nothing to see.

Meanwhile at Pitt the chicks were very active. They spent most of the day ledge walking but came down to the nest for a variety of reasons.

At 7:13a one of them made a visit while Terzo was on the green perch.

A chick comes down to the nest while Terzo is there (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

… and visited the snapshot camera.

Eyeing the snapshot camera (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At 7:20a Yellow spent time “wing-ercising.”

Wing-ercising, 30 May 2019, 7:20a (National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Yellow pauses on the green perch, 30 May 2019, 7:20a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This Day-in-a-Minute video shows how often they visited the nest yesterday (30 May 2019) — a lot more than we realize.

Come down to Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza today, Friday 31 May 2019, noon-1p. Anne Marie Bosnyak saw a lot of activity last evening. I think we’ll have a good show today.

(photo of Downtown chick by Lori Maggio, photos and video at the Cathedral of Learning nest from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Where To See the Peregrines: Downtown and Pitt

Downtown Pittsburgh peregrines nest with adult flying away, as seen from Mt. Washington, 27 May 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

We can’t see into the Downtown peregrines’ nest from the street, but we can from Mt. Washington, across the river from Downtown Pittsburgh.

On Memorial Day Lori Maggio took photos from the Mt. Washington overlook nearest the Mon Incline. Though these super-zoomed images are fuzzy, you can see three of four chicks and an adult flying from the nest (above), and four chicks in the photo below. The chicks are still white, clearly younger than the peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning.

Four peregrine chicks in the Downtown Pittsburgh nest, as seen from Mt. Washington, 27 May 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Yesterday the Pitt peregrine chicks walked off their nest and out of camera view (see They Walked Off The Nest). Though the youngsters may return briefly, you’re more likely to see their parents on camera.

This morning Terzo stepped into view for less than a minute, then paused on the green perch. The streaming camera is zoomed too close to see that perch but Terzo was visible on the snapshot camera at 6:11am. The screenshot below is from FALCONCAM – CL snapshots (listed in Resources on the righthand side of my blog). This link is the easiest way to see if anyone’s home.

Two-camera view of Cathedral of Learning nest at FALCONCAMS – CL snapshot

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch Bonus!

Tomorrow, 31 May 2019, I’ll be at Schenley Plaza near the tent from noon to 1pm. Stop by if you get a chance. I’ll bring my scope so we’ll get the best possible view of the birds.

(photos of Downtown nest by Lori Maggio, Cathedral of Learning nest screenshot from FALCONCAMS – CL snapshot)

They Walked Off The Nest

  • Pitt peregrine chicks waiting for breakfast, 29 May 2019, 6:03:58

This morning at 6:18am both of the Pitt peregrine chicks walked off the nest and out of camera view. They’re now officially ledge walking.

The slideshow above covers 13 minutes of activity, just long enough to show them bouncing around, whining at their parents (not in sight), and disappearing from camera view.

I visited Schenley Plaza at 10:45am and found both of them on the nest rail watching the world go by. Here’s Peter Bell’s picture from last year, 27 May 2018, that shows what they look like today (if I could take a picture).

Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Now that they’re off camera the best way to see them is from Schenley Plaza. Stay tuned for a (possible) revision to the Fledge Watch schedule. Maybe Friday. Not Thursday because it’s going to storm.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Taking Out The Garbage

Western bluebird carrying fecal sac away from the nest (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Nests look like safe havens for baby birds but if they’re not kept clean they can quickly become infested with pathogens and parasites, or their smell can attract predators. For songbirds it’s especially important to keep their nests clean. Fortunately their bodies have evolved to make this easy.

In the photo above, a western bluebird is taking out the garbage after visiting his nest. In his beak is a fecal sac, a package of white mucous membrane surrounding the feces of one of his nestlings. Every nestling produces a fecal sac shortly after eating. The packaging makes it easy to keep the nest clean.

What the parents do with the fecal sacs depends on the species. Most drop them far away from the nest but some species, such as American robins, consume the fecal sacs while the nestlings are quite young and carry the sacs away when the nestlings are older.

Just before songbirds fledge their bodies switch from producing fecal sacs to defecating wet feces over the edge of the nest. Robins’ nests don’t have whitewash beneath them until you can see the youngsters above the nest rim. By the time they are messy, baby robins are almost out of there.

Birds of prey aren’t as fastidious. If you watch peregrine and bald eagle nestcams, you’ll see two differences in their nest sanitation:

  1. Raptor nestlings don’t produce fecal sacs. Instead they back up to the edge and aim wet feces away from the nest.
  2. As the nestlings age the parents become lazy housekeepers, often leaving food debris at the nest as a self serve snack for the young.

Birds of prey aren’t worried that predators will smell their nests. That’s why they don’t always take out the garbage.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Two Fledge Watches + A Bird Walk, June 1-12

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

The first two weeks of June are jam-packed with outdoor opportunities. Join me at one of these upcoming events:

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 1-5
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, June 2
  • Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 7 and 10, 11, 12.

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 1-5, 11a – 1p

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is a fluid drop-in event to swap peregrine stories and watch the young Pitt peregrines learn to fly. Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.
Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: 1-5 June 2019, 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group and lots of peregrine fans. (Note on June 1: John English will start the watch at 11a; I’ll arrive at noon.)
Parking: Pay-parking is available around Schenley Plaza (on-street parking is free on Sundays!) and at Carnegie Museum.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 2, 8:30a – 10:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday June 2, the fourth annual Phipps BioBlitz Festival will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers to conduct biological surveys of living species in Schenley Park. The event is free with no advance registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.
Where: Meet me at the back of the Event Tent on Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 2, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza to look for peregrines.

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, Third Avenue, June 7, 10, 11, 12 … 11a-1p

Fledge watchers Downtown at Third Ave, 7 June 2016 (photo by John English)
Downtown Fledge Watch, June 2016 (photo by John English)

During the second week of June — perhaps earlier — the peregrine nestlings on Third Avenue will make their first flight. Because their nest is low they may need our help. In the first 24 hours of flight, fledgling peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground and have to be put up high to start over. The PA Game Commission (PGC) will send an officer to rescue the bird. Call PGC at 724-238-9523.

The #1 purpose of Downtown Fledge Watch is to educate the public so lots of people know to call the Game Commission if they find a downed peregrine. We’d love to believe trained volunteers can find every bird but the reality in Downtown Pittsburgh is that peregrines in trouble are found by people who’ve never seen a peregrine.  People often tell building security guards about the birds so I’ve notified nearby Point Park University (site of the rescue porch).

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch is a drop-in event to watch the young Downtown peregrines, educate the public about peregrines, and alert the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 if a fledgling needs to be rescued from the ground.

Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.

Where: 3rd Avenue between Wood and Smithfield in Downtown Pittsburgh. (click the link for a map)
When: On weekdays, Fri June 7, Mon-Wed June 10-12. Time: 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there (except June 12) with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group.
Notes: There is no official Fledge Watch on June 8-9 weekend but John and/or I may be there. On-street parking is free on Sundays.

(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons, Downtown Fledge Watch by John English)

First Step Off The Gravel

  • Flapping!

Yesterday at 30 days old the Pitt peregrine chicks reached an important milestone. They both jumped up to the front perch. It’s their first step off the gravel, the first step toward ledge walking and eventual flight.

Perhaps their parents encouraged them. At lunchtime Hope and Terzo flew circles around the Cathedral of Learning, lazily gliding past the nest and wingtip-flapping like a juvenile peregrine who’s just learned to fly. It looked like they were saying, “Here’s how you do it, kids.”

Just before 6pm the chicks were wound up. One flapped wildly, eyed the perch and up he went. (Notice the red tape on right leg band). He examined the gully for the first time, partially hiding his brother from the camera’s eye.

Then his brother (yellow tape) got into the act, flapped and jumped. Both on the perch! When the novelty wore off they went back to the gravel.

In a week to 10 days these two will start to fly. Before that happens they’ll walk away from the nest and out of the camera view.

When they’re no longer on camera, come down to Fledge Watch to see them in person. I’ll post the Fledge Watch schedule tomorrow for Pitt and Downtown.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)